Macho men and scaredy-cats

There is a certain type of person who was contemptuous of the risks associated with Covid-1:

As Brazil entered its third week of quarantine, President Jair Bolsonaro began to get impatient.

“The virus is there. We need to face it like a man, dammit. We will all die someday,” said the rightwing leader on Sunday, just days after announcing a new campaign that urged citizens to break self-isolation and return to their jobs.

And this:

“We have to stop being a country of sissies.”

Bolsonaro used the Portuguese word “maricas,” an offensive slang term for gay people.

Now the vaccine is here, but Bolsonaro does not want to “face it like a man, dammit”. Rather he wants to face the vaccine with the same courage you’d expect from a child that sees a big scary spider in his bedroom:

But Serrana was given a way out. Between February and April, all adults were offered jabs as part of a study by the Butantan Institute, which produces CoronaVac, a vaccine developed by Sinovac, a Chinese firm. More than 95% of serranenses got jabbed, despite Jair Bolsonaro, the president, claiming that it was unsafe. Preliminary results released on May 31st showed that symptomatic cases and deaths fell by 80% and 95%, respectively. Only two covid-19 patients remain hospitalised in the local clinic (both refused the vaccine).

Is Bolsonaro unusual? Not according to the comment section of my blog. Last year it was full of tough guys ridiculing fears of Covid, citing one lie after another (“it’s like the 1957 flu” or “the IFR is only 0.25%”, etc.) Now some of those same tough guys are wetting their pants over the risks posed by the (ultra-safe) Covid vaccine. Again they cite one lie after another (“9000 people have died from the vaccine”, etc.)

So what’s going on here? This is obviously not about risk tolerance. So what is it about? What is the hidden agenda?

Lockdowns can be seen as paternalistic regulations that aim to protect the public from harming themselves and their families. In America, conservatives were more likely to oppose such laws. But conservatives are more likely to support paternalistic drug laws aimed at protecting people from harming themselves and their families. Perhaps it’s all about framing. Is a “sissy” someone who is scared to try cocaine? Or is a sissy someone who uses narcotics to avoid facing up to life’s responsibilities “like a man”?

If there’s no rhyme or reason to these framings, then it opens the door to political reshuffling, which may already being occurring in the UK:

The delay of “Freedom Day”, which was supposed to see lockdown restrictions lifted almost entirely on June 21st, has probably been a boon for protesters. One says he was surprised by the number of vaccinated people joining in, either because they wanted to get back to normal or because they have become concerned about possible side-effects since being jabbed.

The protests attract both anarchist left and anti-establishment right. Piers Corbyn, the brother of Jeremy Corbyn, Labour’s former, far-left leader, has shared platforms with David Kurten, once a member of the United Kingdom Independence Party, a populist outfit that campaigned for Brexit, and now leader of the right-wing Heritage Party. Activists have united around “freedom”, discussing John Locke and Ayn Rand.

And I think we know where Foucault would be on these issues.

But no matter how many times the political deck is reshuffled, they never get around to creating a tribe that I wish to join.

A sign of the times

While shopping online, I noticed a retailer with the following payment options:

I’m no expert on bitcoin, so please tell me if any of my assumptions are incorrect:

1. Bitcoin is increasingly widely used as a store of value and a medium of exchange, but not as a unit of account. In other words, retailers are not setting bitcoin prices, rather they are setting dollar prices and allowing the payment of an equivalent amount of bitcoin. Is that correct?

2. If point one is correct, then bitcoin affects monetary policy in much the same way that other money substitutes like credit cards, debit cards, and checks affect monetary policy—not much at all.

3. If point one is correct, then bitcoin “monetary policy” doesn’t affect the macroeconomy. A change in the supply of bitcoin doesn’t impact nominal aggregates (NGDP, CPI, etc.) A change in the use of bitcoin would only affect nominal aggregates if it were not offset by the central bank.

1470 dead Americans

During the past week, roughly 1470 Americans died of Covid. The overwhelming majority were not fully vaccinated. And now this:

The nation’s top infectious disease expert expressed horror on Sunday over attendees of a conservative political conference loudly applauding the inability of the federal government to hit its vaccine goals.

With new variants of COVID-19 now surging in areas with low vaccination rates and right-wing media promoting vaccine hesitancy to its viewers, the Conservative Political Action Conference in Texas invited noted “Covid Contrarian” Alex Berenson to fearmonger about the safe and effective coronavirus vaccines.

Speaking on the CPAC stage on Saturday, Berenson—who The Atlantic once labeled the “Pandemic’s Wrongest Man”— prompted cheers from the crowd when he boasted that “the government was hoping that they could sort of sucker 90 percent of the population into getting vaccinated, and it isn’t happening.”

Dear God! And people ask me why I’m not a conservative.

And this:

Carlson, the highest-rated Fox News host, with an average of 2.9 million viewers, said the Biden plan was an attempt to “force people to take medicine they don’t want or need.” He called the initiative “the greatest scandal in my lifetime, by far.”

Carlson’s guest on that episode, veteran Fox News political analyst Brit Hume, pushed back slightly, saying, “What they’re trying to do is make it as easy as possible for people to get the vaccine and, for people who are hesitant, to perhaps encourage them that they have nothing to fear.” Hume was quick to add that “vaccines do have side effects” and said those who are hesitant “should be respected.”

By far the greatest scandal? Far worse than Benghazi?

Brit Hume always seemed like a decent man to me. He’s 78 years old. So sad to see him end his career associated with people like Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham. And in which circle would Dante have placed Rupert Murdoch? He’s 90 years old, super rich, and vaccinated—does he still value money that much?

Was I naive during the 1990s, or is the world actually becoming an increasingly evil place?

Why not both!

Monetary policy and bond yields

Here’s the FT:

A steady decline in yields since the start of the second quarter accelerated sharply this month, which market participants attributed to a liquidation of short positions by hedge funds and other momentum-orientated traders whose bets had turned against them. . . .

“The market was banking on a dovish contingency at the Fed,” Tipp said, who would allow the economy to run hot, pushing up inflation and reducing the value of long-dated bonds. That narrative stalled last month, he said, when Fed officials opened the door to raising rates in 2023, earlier than previously expected.

Mark Lindbloom, who manages the Western Asset core plus bond fund echoed that view. “We do not believe the Fed today, or in the future will sacrifice its credibility” from taming inflation in the 1980s, he said.

It seems like some bond traders had assumed that AIT was being used by the Fed as an excuse to engage in a more dovish monetary policy. Then, some recent statements by Fed officials convinced the market that the Fed is serious about keeping inflation close to 2% on average. Inflation expectations fell and this dragged down long-term bond yields.

In my view, there are still two unexplained mysteries:

1. While there are cases where a contractionary policy announcement immediately reduces bond yields, in other cases the effect seems to be delayed. Why is that?

2. What explains the long run downward trend in real interest rates? It’s clearly not (easy) central bank policy, as we’ve seen that tighter money actually reduces interest rates. So what is it?

Given point #2, the Fed needs to fix its monetary policy. While the adoption of AIT is a step in the right direction, a further step is needed. I see two primary options. First, raise the inflation target to 3%. Realistically, that’s not going to happen. Second, acquire a more powerful tool kit (a subject on which I’ve written extensively). Given the gridlock in DC, that probably won’t happen either, even though each party would probably support the idea at a time when they were in power. A couple years ago, I suggested that the Fed was missing a golden opportunity to ask for more powerful tools when Trump was in power. Now it’s too late.

No, the rot is not equivalent

It’s fashionable in certain circles to suggest that both the Dems and the GOP have been taken over by the loonies. While there are plenty of crazy Trumpistas in the GOP and loony woke people in the Democratic party, I don’t buy into the “pox on both your houses” view of the situation. Put simply, the loony Trumpistas have totally taken over the GOP, whereas the Dems are not yet a personality cult, nor are they controlled by woke leftists.

The recent NYC mayoral primary offers a striking example. The primary was won by Eric Adams, who is tough on crime, favors charter schools, wants to keep standardized tests for elite high schools, is pro congestion pricing and is a pro-development YIMBY. I’m sure he also supports lots of bad policies, but how much better can one realistically expect from a Democrat in that liberal city? The “defund the police” mob does not yet control the Dems.

A reasonable Republican supporter might respond that at the local level there are plenty of Republicans who are not wild-eyed Trumpistas, and who have even better policy views than Adams. I agree. But that’s not what distinguishes the two parties today.

The real issue is that Republican politicians who stand up for democracy and the rule of law fear for their lives and the lives of their families. Democratic politicians that oppose Biden do not fear for their lives. It’s that simple.

The Economist is a centrist magazine that is published in the UK, and they often have a much clearer view of what’s going on here than do Americans who can’t see the forest for the trees:

Bill Gates, a member of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors (and one of the “enemies of the people” blasted outside the Coliseum), is a lonely example [BTW, not the Microsoft Gates]. A longtime Republican of the Ronald Reagan and Jack Kemp mould, Mr Gates has received death threats for defending the legitimacy of the election. “If this is a new normal, our democracy is definitely in peril. Because you can’t do this and have a healthy, functioning democracy,” he says.

His other Republican credentials—cutting taxes and even supporting tighter voting laws—have ceased to matter. “There may be electoral consequences to me down the road. I’m not currently worried. This is too important…9/11 was a threat to our safety. This is the biggest threat to our democracy,” he adds. “We were the party of the rule of law.” Mr Gates argues that the party has lost its Burkean roots in favour of feverish populism. Thought of as a careful and pragmatic politician before, with some aspirations for statewide office, Mr Gates’s stance may have sunk his chances.

In his retirement, he had dreamed of going to the former Soviet republics to serve as an election observer in fledgling democracies. With some emotion in his voice, he reflects, “I never imagined that it would be here. I would do it here in Maricopa County…that’s what’s just stunning.” Looking around he repeats, almost to himself: “I don’t need to go to Belarus. I got it right here.”

When I began saying that America was becoming a banana republic, commenters said I was being hysterical. OK, now we have Republicans in the Reagan/Kemp mold saying exactly the same thing. Still think I’m being hysterical?

Here’s GOP Congressman Peter Meijer from Michigan (or should I say soon to be former GOP congressman?), in a Reason magazine interview:

And then one of the saddest things is I had colleagues who, when it came time to recognize reality and vote to certify Arizona and Pennsylvania in the Electoral College, they knew in their heart of hearts that they should’ve voted to certify, but some had legitimate concerns about the safety of their families. They felt that that vote would put their families in danger.

Really? You heard that?

Yeah.

Wow. That’s pretty striking.

That’s pretty much the textbook definition of a banana republic.

I know what you are going to say; just another delusional Republican that is overreacting to recent events. But here’s what I don’t get. When these “hysterical” Republican get interviewed they seem like normal human beings. When the “steal the election” Trumpistas get interviewed they come across as escaped mental patients that are off their meds. What should we infer from that pattern?

Most comparisons of the two parties miss the point. Each party is right on some issues and wrong on others. The key difference is that one party is a personality cult that is trying to subvert democracy, and the other is not. In 2021, that’s all that really matters.

PS. Don’t you hate it when left wing newspapers mention Hitler and Trump in the same article? Here’s The Guardian:

On a visit to Europe to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of the first world war, Donald Trump insisted to his then chief of staff, John Kelly: “Well, Hitler did a lot of good things.”

The remark from the former US president on the 2018 trip, which reportedly “stunned” Kelly, a retired US Marine Corps general, is reported in a new book by Michael Bender of the Wall Street Journal.

Imagine a Hitler that didn’t launch WWII or the Holocaust. That’s sort of how I have always viewed Trump, and I suspect that’s how he views himself. A “doing good things” Hitler that likes to troll.